Indiana voucher students getting whiter, less poor

Indiana’s voucher initiative was billed as a way to help poor children, many of them black and Hispanic, escape low-performing urban public schools. But it’s shifting rapidly to a program that serves middle-class white families, according to data released this week.

It’s also getting a lot bigger, but we already knew that. The number of students getting taxpayer dollars to attend mostly religious private schools more than doubled this year, to 19,809 students, the Indiana Department of Education reported.

But the demographic shift is equally striking. White students receiving vouchers grew from 46.4 percent in 2011-12, the program’s first year, to 56.4 percent this year. The percentage of black students among recipients has declined by a third in just two years.

To what extent are white parents using state-funded vouchers to pull their children out of racially integrated public schools and send them to mostly white private schools? How often are we subsidizing moves from effective public schools to ineffective private schools? Those are among the questions that figures in the DOE report don’t answer.

We do know, thanks to State Impact Indiana, that a lot of parents are using vouchers to move their children to private schools that earned Ds or Fs on the state grading system. Continue reading


Indiana ‘teacher choice’ initiative raises questions

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to provide financial incentives for teachers to transfer to charter schools or underperforming public schools. It’s an interesting idea, but other states have tried it with mixed results. Have we learned from their experience?

Included in Senate Bill 264, Pence’s proposal would give $10,000 a year for up to two years to any teacher who moves to a charter school where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches or any public school that got a grade of D or F.

The proposal raises questions. Here are a few:

  • Why isn’t it targeted to schools that are likely to need help? Fifty percent free-and-reduced-price lunch isn’t exactly high-poverty; the average FRL rate for Indiana public schools is 49 percent. And nearly one in five schools got a D or F last year.
  • Why not limit the program to teachers who are likely to be successful? A similar program in Washington, D.C., for example, requires teachers to have been rated “highly effective” to qualify for incentive payments. Not so the Indiana legislation. Continue reading

Indiana school corporation grades align with poverty too

The Indiana State Board of Education approved A-to-F grades for public school corporations this week and – no surprise – the grades reflect poverty, just like the grades for individual schools do.

Among the state’s 289 school corporations, most low-poverty corporations got As and Bs. But nearly three-quarters of high-poverty corporations got a grade of C or worse.

School corporation grades reflect the same criteria that go into grades for individual schools: 2013 performance and growth on standardized tests for students in elementary and middle schools, and test results, graduation rates and “college and career readiness” factors for high schools. Corporation grades are prorated by the number of students in elementary-middle and high schools. Continue reading

Indiana’s pre-K bill smells of politics

There’s bipartisan support for making Indiana the 42nd state in the nation to fund pre-kindergarten. Wouldn’t it be nice if legislators produced a bipartisan bill to make it happen? Apparently that’s too much to ask, at least for now.

House Bill 1004, approved last week by the House Education Committee, creates a pilot program to help fund preschool for 4-year-olds from low-income families. But it also opens another gateway to Indiana’s K-12 private school voucher program, already one of the most expansive in the country.

Under the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis, children who take part in the state preschool program would qualify for vouchers once they hit kindergarten. Until now, vouchers have gone to students who transfer from public schools or who live in an attendance area for a public school that gets an F on the state grading system.

As the Indiana State Teachers Association said, there are questions about the pre-K proposal, but “one thing is clear in the bill and that is it will become a ‘feeder system’ for the K-12 private school voucher schools.” Continue reading

Common Core and the anti-public school agenda

They say that if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas. If that’s so, progressive critics of the Common Core State Standards may find themselves doing some scratching.

Stephanie Simon reports for Politico that the Koch brothers and other right-wing power brokers have jumped on the anti-Common Core cause as part of an effort to undermine public education:

What started as a ragtag opposition led by a handful of angry moms is now a sophisticated national movement supported by top donors and strategists on the right. Conservative groups say their involvement already has paid dividends in the form of new members and troves of email addresses.

But that’s just the start.

draft action plan by the advocacy group FreedomWorks lays out the effort as a series of stepping stones: First, mobilize to strike down the Common Core. Then push to expand school choice by offering parents tax credits or vouchers to help pay tuition at private and religious schools. Next, rally the troops to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Then it’s on to eliminating teacher tenure.

Opposition to Common Core has been catnip to tea-party types because … well, apparently because President Obama supports the standards. Continue reading

Few charter schools among Indiana’s overachieving schools

Last week School Matters pointed out that Indiana school grades align with poverty: the more poor kids at a school, the higher the chance of a low grade. But there are many schools in the state that do quite well despite serving lots of students who are poor.

One in five high-poverty schools – where two-thirds or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches – earned an A. More than one-third got an A or a B. These overachieving schools are found across the state. They are big and small, urban and rural. And almost none of them are charter schools.

It’s not just that charter schools got worse overall grades than traditional public schools. That’s not surprising, because many charters enroll disproportionate numbers of kids from low-income families. But even adjusting for poverty, charter schools fared worse.

Thirty-five percent of the state’s high-poverty schools – a total of 162 schools – received grades of A or B. But only three of those 162 were charter schools. Among all charter schools, 21.5 percent got an A or B, and most of those are not high-poverty charters.


It could be argued that, because many charter schools are located in and serve students from inner-city neighborhoods, it’s not fair to compare them to high-poverty schools across the state.

But even compared with other urban public schools, charter schools don’t do so well. Continue reading